by Jacob Wingate-Bishop
Of all Queen’s albums to re-release (in a plethora of packages), 1989’s The Miracle probably wouldn’t be your first choice. It’s not looked back upon with quite the same legendary status as ‘75’s A Night at the Opera, 1980’s The Game, or even Innuendo – the group’s last effort before frontman Mercury tragically passed away.
The Miracle is a good album, sure. It holds a special place in myheart, because it ended up being my breakthrough (intended) into Queen and was the first of their albums I bought. It holds up pretty well after all this time, too. Any record that boasts, ‘Breakthru’, ‘Scandal’ and the rock epic of ‘I Want It All’ is bound to stand the test of time.
And yet, it still seemed a slightly mad announcement when the beloved British rock act announced an expanded reissue of their thirteenth studio album. It was promoted with a ‘long lost’ outtake from The Miracle’s sessions – ‘Face It Alone’. Whilst hardly among the best of the band’s back catalogue (outtakes tend to be left on the cutting room floor for a reason), hearing a ‘new’ Queen song in 2022, complete with Mercury’s chilling vocals, was nothing short of incredible. It was an event.
One can only assume the reason this album was picked above all others for such an in-depth treatment (indeed, the only other Queen album to have a £300 ‘collector’s’ boxset behind it was 1977’s News of the World, back in 2017) was because a bunch of stuff from the Miracle era must have come out of the woodwork. Hidden away, a treasure trove for Queen fanatics, for years. People couldn’t believe so many unreleased tracks were on the way from a band as big – and as covered – as this.
It’s a long-established fact that Queen didn’t leave much in the way of outtakes and demos behind, either. In every way, they were a streamlined, efficient force. They went into the studio, gave themselves a deadline, cut a dozen tracks or so, and that was that. Yet here, we have early versions or rough mixes for every song on the final album – including, yes, ‘My Baby Does Me’ to everyone’s chagrin.
But was it worth it? Is this reissue worth the money? Nine out of ten times when I buy a ‘deluxe’ reissue with a whole second disc of ‘backstage’ content, I never listen to those other takes again. They’re interesting, fascinating, even. A behind-the-scenes look into an album I love, or a band’s finest moment onstage, immortalised on compact disc. But then they go back in the fancy digipack and there they stay for years. Is Queen’s The Miracle worth purchasing again, for the sake of some initial mixes and a few demos?
Surprisingly, yes. The ‘standard’ deluxe version of the reissue – with one extra disc of bonus material – sees entirely unreleased tracks, separate even from those available on Queen’s 2011 remaster series. Sure, we don’t get ‘Stealin’’ (the catchy B-side of ‘Breakthru’) or enigmatic instrumental in ‘Chinese Torture’. But what’s in their place is so much more exciting.
From the opening of track one, the original take of bombastic rocker, ‘Party’, it’s clear we’re bearing witness to something magical (a sentence I utter with no amount of hyperbole) – Queen, in the studio, in 1988. Freddie’s still alive, the band’s premature demise seems far off, and they still have ten tracks to nail in the booth.
‘I find the drums a bit loud,’ Mercury says not five seconds in, with a voice as sweet and eloquent as farmer’s market honey. Having the chance to hear any back-and-forth between the band in the studio is staggering, and it’s moments like these which really show what the reissue is about.
But that’s not to say the evolution of the songs themselves aren’t hypnotic. One of the highlights of this wealth of unreleased material is the original take for ‘I Want It All’ – one of the heaviest, most anthemic songs in Queen’s canon. We’re treated to a whole minute of expanded opening, as Freddie lays down an idea for a riff he has. Then we kick into the song itself, complete with false start (Freddie muttering, ‘Oh my god!’ at his mistake is downright adorable) and unfinished lyrics. We’re a fly on the wall in a Queen recording session, and it’s beautiful.
The goodies continue with an ancient incarnation of the title track, an early version of ‘The Invisible Man’ – Roger Taylor on vocals – and even a demo for ‘When Love Breaks Up’, a song that would ultimately end up as the opening for ‘Breakthru’. A rough mix for the May-penned ‘Scandal’ proves, once more, that this is a band still at the top of their game, with an early ‘My Baby Does Me’ finding some way to bring joy into the world – as Freddie accidentally sings, ‘My baby loves me/ She knows that I love me…’ to which Taylor chuckles, ‘Freudian slip!’.
The original take for ‘Was It All Worth It’ is somehow just as poignant and grandiose as the final version, and that’s before we even get onto the completely new outtakes. ‘You Belong to Me’, written by May, was originally dreamt up in the sessions for Hot Space, and it more than echoes the astrophysicist’s later work, Back to the Light.
‘Dog With a Bone’, though, is undoubtedly the high point of The Miracle’s bonus content. Mercury and Taylor share vocal duties in a decidedly rocky number, showcasing the best Queen has to offer: their formula of regal meets rock ‘n roll. The second disc is closed out with mellow ‘Water’ and ‘Face It Alone’.
Tracks on the expanded deluxe version include a lot of what’s come before (all the bonus scraps from the 2011 remaster), 12” mixes and backing tracks. For even the Queen collector, they’re hardly must-listens. But an entire alternate timeline of The Miracle (similar to News of the World’s reissue in 2017) is breath-taking. From the most banal of everyday conversations between the foursome, to composition choices and entirely different lyrics, the 2022 reissue of The Miracle really is just that. I was sceptical about buying it again – when I already own a copy on CD – but in an instant, those doubts faded away.
Never has there been a better time to be a Queen fan, and it’s reissues like this which reiterate why they’re a powerhouse worth loving. Through early takes, demos and rejected mixes, we piece together a group of four individuals at the top of their game, who not only proved talented musicians, but lifelong friends – and thank God we have the tapes to prove it.